Thursday, November 28, 2013

Book Review: "Taken By Storm"

2013 marked the 75th anniversary of the 1938 "LongIsland Express", a fast-moving hurricane that roared across Long Island and New England on September 21st with over 100 mile per hour winds. It is the deadliest hurricane to strike New England since 1900 and, until Sandy last year, the costliest storm in terms of damage to the New England Coastline.  Taken By Storm, 1938, by Lourdes Aviles, is a social and meteorological history of the hurricane that many refer to as the Long Island Express, with many others also referring to it by "The Great New England Hurricane." Aviles' work is a historical reference of the storm's history, its impact to property and livelihood across New England, and the scars that remain from the storm to the present day.

Aviles draws on meteorological concepts to explain what causes a storm like the '38 hurricane to make landfall across the New England coastline, how rare hurricane landfalls are across New England, and how such a rare occurrence only fueled a higher level of people being caught off guard when the storm did indeed strike. Unlike today, where 24-hour news and weather information can tell you days in advance if a storm is coming, 1938 did not feature weather satellites and did not feature anywhere near the level of warning that modern day meteorology can provide.  The author points out that warnings on the storm the day prior to landfall did not mention a threat to New England and only mentioned the threat of some gusty winds on the day of the storm's impact.  600 lives were lost in this storm.

The book provides readers a highly technical and scientific look at the backstory to a significant weather event in our history.  The best audience for this book are weather enthusiasts, historians with an interest in New England, and those with a scientific lean. It's not really suited for a casual audience although Aviles does a good job of explaining the more technical aspects of weather to help shape an understanding of what caused the hurricane to track into New England. I do think that unless you're in the weather realm and if you don't have a basic understanding of meteorology you will probably struggle to read the book.   However, if you do, it makes for a relatively quick read. I was able to march through it over the course of a couple of afternoons.